Singapore’s six universities – same, same but different

May 12, 2017 05.00PM |

by Sharanya Pillai

THE country’s youngest public university hopes that age will be no limit for learning how to create social impact.

The Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), which became the sixth autonomous university here yesterday (Mar 8), wants to weave in social sciences into fields beyond the humanities, such as business and engineering, while also catering to older students.

SUSS was formerly a private institution, the Singapore Institute of Management University,  and also known as the go-to place for a part-time degree. The university currently offers 60 part-time courses to about 13,200 students.

And even as it increases its intake of full-time students from 580 to 1,000 over the next few years, SUSS hopes to keep catering to adult learners, through collaborations with the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency to develop more applied degrees.

According to Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, SUSS will differentiate itself by adopting a social focus, The Straits Times reported. All full-time students will be required to take on social projects and advocate for a cause – although specifics have yet to be released.

With more goods in the marketplace, will potential undergraduates have to confront the tyranny of choice? We look at how the six institutions are setting themselves apart:

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1. More niche courses on offer

National University of Singapore (NUS): The country’s oldest university, NUS, offers over 50 full-time degrees, including exclusive courses such as dentistry and music. It also offers graduate medicine at Duke-NUS Medical School, and a liberal arts education at Yale-NUS College. Last year, NUS launched a new data science and analytics degree, amid the growing popularity of computing courses.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU): Offering over 50 full-time degrees as well, NTU last year rolled out a new integrated programme allowing business and accountancy students to earn both an honours degree and a Masters in Financial Engineering, among other engineering and biomedical degrees. It also offers a specialised degree in sport science and management.

Singapore Management University (SMU): The university has seven undergraduate programmes, in accountancy, business management, law, economics, information systems and social science, as well as a new SUTD-SMU dual degree programme in technology and management. Last year it launched two new majors: entrepreneurship, and politics, law and economics (PLE), for those pursuing degrees in business management and social science respectively.

Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD): Established in 2009, SUTD offers four undergraduate programmes: architecture and sustainable design, engineering product development, engineering systems and design, and information systems technology and design. This year, it announced a new 4.5 year integrated Bachelor and Master Programme in Technology Entrepreneurship under the SUTD Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP).

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT): The university has over 40 degree programmes across five specialisations: engineering, chemical engineering and food technology, infocomm technology, health and social science, and design and specialised business. Last year, it introduced seven new applied degrees, such as those in telematics and food technology.

SUSS: The newly-minted autonomous university currently offers full-time programmes in fields including law, early childhood education and supply chain management. Under the SUSS-Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) programme, non-graduate SAF staff can also enrol in a SUSS degree with a minor in military studies. The SAF also has existing partnerships with SMU and NTU.


2. Zhng your education: Special programmes

NUS: The University Scholars Programme and University Town College Programme promote interdisciplinary and residential learning. The NUS Overseas College (NOC) gives entrepreneurial students exposure to start-up ecosystems abroad.

NTU: Like its NUS counterpart, the NTU-University Scholars Programme is based on an interdisciplinary curriculum. The Renaissance Engineering Programme encompasses business, engineering and the liberal arts, while the CN Yang Scholars Programme delves into mathematics, science and engineering.

SMU: The SMU LifeLessons programme emphasises on a “values-based” system providing students community service, internship and student exchange opportunities.

SUTD: The SUTD-MIT International Design Centre conducts programmes such as Design Odyssey and Design Innovation @ Singapore to encourage students to innovate.

SIT: Value-added programmes on engineering software, as well as foreign cultures and languages, are provided to students free of charge.

SUSS: Service-learning is mandatory for full-time undergraduates, who will have to work on a project over at least two years with a community partner. There is also a compulsory overseas exposure programme – in the form of a study mission, service-learning project, summer school programme or work attachment.


3. Upgrade U: Focus on lifelong learning

NUS: The School of Continuing and Lifelong Education (SCALE), the newest faculty of NUS, offers Bachelor of Technology programmes and certified courses for working adults. In its most recent initiative, the university is also offering some free modules for alumni.

NTU: The Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) offers short courses in fields including accountancy, education and engineering, as well as a two-week summer programme teaching soft skills and communication.

SMU: The newly-established SMU Academy offers modules that can lead up towards obtaining graduate degrees, diplomas or certificates from the university. Each module can be completed in three sessions.

SUTD: The Lifelong Initiative for Education (LIFE) provides SUTD graduates $500 to enrol in further education courses, such as in cyber security, design innovation and advanced manufacturing.

SIT: The SITLEARN Professional Development provides further upgrading courses in fields including allied health, hospitality and engineering.

SUSS: Lifelong learning is front and centre of SUSS’ rebranding, and something that will set the university apart from the others, said Minister Ong. Among its initiatives are an Overseas Study Mission that comes with a SkillsFuture study award, as well as Continuing Education and Training courses fields such as construction and financial services.

At first glance, the six universities may seem similar in the range of courses offered – it takes some research to fully appreciate the differences in curriculum and course structure. Going inter-disciplinary definitely seems to be the trend now, with more universities offering uncommon combinations of disciplines. NTU, which has long been known for its strength in engineering, has jazzed up degrees in materials engineering with second majors including food science and medical biology. Meanwhile, SMU has added a smart city management major to its Information Systems programme, which marries information technology (IT) with business, social and environmental issues. It also carries the same buzzwords as the G’s Smart Nation initiative.

While moving forward with the new and shiny, the universities also seem mindful of their evolving role – as not just a place to earn a degree, but also an institution of higher learning for alumni and adults. We are already seeing more 50 to 60-year-olds pursuing diplomas. Perhaps more will embark on degree programmes in the coming years.


Featured image by Flickr user CC BY 2.0

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